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MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale

MORESO | Fire Walk with Me | David Lynch’s Twin Peaks Finale
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

This Moreso article is a follow-up to an earlier one, “Generational Shame in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (28 June 2017), available here.

Judging from the immediate response on Twitter and subsequent mainstream media recaps (with the exception of Dan Martin at The Guardian and a few others), many people seem perplexed about the open-ended finale of Twin Peaks: The Return. I am not. As with all things David Lynch, you have to appreciate the (weird) window-dressing but, nonetheless, ignore such affectations when it comes to explanations by focusing on the essential. When you do so, there is a lot of narrative meat to chew in the final two episodes, which seems to confirm our prior hypothesis that Twin Peaks is about Baby Boomer shame. We will not recap that argument now; you can read it here.


Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992).

What are the key points? Where do we keep our focus to interpret this bizarre, frightening, and even nihilist (i.e. spiritually bleak) ending? After all, it cannot be a coincidence that both episode 17 and 18 ended with Sheryl Lee’s blood-curdling scream, putting aside the end credit sequences: one musical and the other a super slow-motion replay of Laura Palmer whispering something disturbing in Agent Cooper’s ear in the Red Room of the Black Lodge during the first episode. Sidenote: Sheryl Lee (to the upper right as Laura Palmer) has to go down in cinematic history as one of the all-time great screamers, worthy of the leading ladies in the best Alfred Hitchcock films.

Let’s start here:

“The past dictates the future.” – Agent Cooper in Episode 17 of Twin Peaks: The Return

This is a truism reiterated by Twin Peaks. Let’s be honest: what would a ‘happy resolution’ for most viewers of any generation look like for the central storyline (e.g. the murder of a prom queen) in Twin Peaks? FBI Agent Cooper solves the murder? That already happened 25 years ago during Season 2. Laura’s Baby Boomer father Leland possessed by the evil spirit BOB raped and murdered her. The destruction of the evil spirit BOB? Lynch and Mark Frost provided this closure in the penultimate episode when BOB was defeated by a Millennial, no less, wearing a green garden glove that gave him supernatural strength… yeah, Twin Peaks is unconventional like much of the Millennial Generation itself in some ways. It is appropriate, if you ask me. No, for most viewers, the ‘happy resolution’ would be preventing the murder of Laura Palmer and subsequent emotional and social damage to the small Washington town of Twin Peaks in the first place. However, this is not possible. If Laura Palmer was never murdered, then there would not be any Twin Peaks for viewer to invest in the first place. The pain of the past dictates the consequences of the future.

Nonetheless, Lynch and Frost offer viewers this exact prospect. Somehow, Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) goes back in time and leads Laura away from her eventual murder. Laura’s dead body ‘disappears’ from where it was found on a shoreline next to a massive downed tree in the opening scenes of the original series (see the header image at the top). The results simmer throughout the final episode until the disturbing climax when a (perhaps changed) Cooper finds ‘Laura’ (who says her name is Carrie Page) in Odessa, Texas and tries to lead her home to her mother Sarah in Twin Peaks, Washington. The closing moments are characterized by confusion on the part of Agent Cooper and that last blood-curdling scream of Sheryl Lee as ‘Laura’ hears the echoes of her (now-remembered?) troubled past. To be sure, it is a bleak ending. This is reinforced by a replay of the scene of Laura in the Black Lodge whispering something horrifying to Agent Cooper, except this time Lynch allows the camera to linger on the disturbed expressions on MacLachlan’s face using super slow motion. Cooper cannot change the past any more than we can change our own pasts. Nonetheless, this is a tantalizing feature of several narratives in fiction (Peggy Sue Got Married, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and so forth). Too many to recount here.

Interestingly, the name of Odessa is the feminine form of ‘odyssey,’ which suggests a key aspect of the story of Twin Peaks is the journey of its female characters. Mainly, I would argue this means Laura Palmer, Donna Hayward, and Audrey Horne. Shelly as a character, played with panache by the beautiful Madchen Amick, always seemed more about the soap opera aspects of David Lynch’s original concept for Twin Peaks than a key to its main story.

Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne during the first season of Twin Peaks.

Many viewers seemed especially upset about the brief appearance and utter lack of resolution to the nonetheless emotionally draining story if only for its obtuse nature involving Audrey played by the wonderful and IMO still beautiful Sherilyn Fenn. Is Audrey in a coma? Is she in an insane asylum? Is she the ‘dreamer’ to which Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) refers? The last seems unlikely, except perhaps in a very narrow sense related to her own story in Twin Peaks: The Return. The lack of a resolution is the point. Much of the story about Generation X is similarly unresolved though our past will dictate the consequences of our future.

I would argue there is a ‘holy trinity’ of Generation X females at the heart of Twin Peaks, each representing different aspects of my often-forgotten generation. The mainstream media is almost always all about the big demographic waves represented by the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. There is the wasted potential of Laura Palmer: the bright, eager-to-help, beautiful prom queen, who was a victim of incest and murdered by a salacious Baby Boomer father unable to control himself or the evil spirit BOB.

Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks.

There was Donna Hayward (famously played during the original Twin Peaks series by Lara Flynn Boyle). Much like the ‘lost’ nature of Generation X, Donna is missing from Twin Peaks: The Return. She represents our ‘lost generation’ by her absence. Then, there is Audrey Horne, who’s story is unresolved, still waiting to be written in history.

All of this is wrapped within the distinct but skewed perspective of a Baby Boomer filmmaker (David Lynch), who symbolically replicates much of the generational shame previously seen in Episode Eight, “Gotta Light?” The young-end-of-the-range-for-a-Baby Boomer Agent Cooper fails to fix the past. The disturbing abortion imagery reappears during the scene at the beginning of episode 17 when the evil spirit BOB emerges from the doppelgänger body of Mr. C to, in effect, become an evil fetus attacking the real Agent Cooper and our nondescript Millennial hero Freddie, who finally rids us of the evil once and for all. Baby Boomers just can’t get past their guilt about their unwanted ‘latchkey’ kids and excessive-to-extreme abortion culture. In any case, Freddie’s destruction of BOB symbolically points to Baby Boomers coming to believe what Generation X had always believe and intended for their children; namely, to save the world from the excesses of the ‘Me’ Generation represented by their grandparents.

I thought it was the most appropriate, even a perfect ending for Twin Peaks. The Baby Boomers cannot ever fix their past mistakes. They have to live with the shame of their many mistakes. The story of the much-abused, much-depleted Generation X is still being written, and the Millennials carry our collective hopes into the future. Let’s hope we haven’t managed to screw them up too much. They need to save the world. Get on with it.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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PAPER | A Fair Proposal

For Providing Affordable Choice in Our Most Prosperous Cities
From Housing Prices Being Less of a Burden to Their Citizens
For Making Greenfield Sites Beneficial to the Public Good

Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
The Outlaw Urbanist
Undisclosed Location, USA


Every day brings another news article and/or more data about the affordable housing crisis in Western societies. The pungent perfume of Lotium Pour Homme drifts through the parks and streets of our most prosperous cities, which are crowded with men, women, and children in desperate need of human charity and/or physical shelter. These homeless and chronically poor, instead of being employed for their honest livelihood, are forced all the time to beg sustenance of family, friends, and strangers; or else queue long hours awaiting the welfare of the State; turn to thievery for want of work; re-enlist to fight for their dear, native country in Afghanistan and/or Iraq; or, egregiously sell their dignity to the Fourth Estate. All parties appear to agree about the deplorable conditions arising from the manifest lack of affordable choices in the housing markets of Western societies. Therefore, whoever could devise a fair, cheap, and easy method for readily available housing, thereby making more fair the socioeconomic conditions of our greatest cities, would deserve nothing less than his or her statue erected as the savior of Democratic Capitalism. However, our intention is far more than merely providing a fair solution to the housing crisis. The goal of our proposal is nothing less than the salvation of urbanism itself and the city as a physical artifact of our collective, human nature.

Many people have had different proposals – many discussed, some implemented, and others ignored – for solving this problem over the decades. Yet, the problem persists, even worsens to this day. This is because most solutions have been and are grossly mistaken in their approach to the problem. It is true, Keynesian economics does have some relevance to urban problems at the discrete scale; and what is Marxist economics but an extreme, all-encompassing version of Keynesian principles. However, our greatest cities, especially those in the United States such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Chicago, and San Francisco, were the product of private industry, both individually and collectively, before the 20th century. What has the Keynesian-produced city become after the landmark period of 1926-1945 in Western societies? Milton Keynes, Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Phoenix to name but a few. These are not places but are the haphazard accumulation of more locations. They are blasphemous to the goals of sustainable urbanism and synergy of place. Fairness in housing is choices. The most abundant housing supply offers the most diverse of affordable choices under normal market conditions. We must pursue normality in our housing markets, not their continual perversion under Keynesian principles. This means private industry aggressively increasing supply.

Developable ‘Greenfield’ Sites: (top) Central Park in New York, New York; and, (bottom) Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

At the same time, I have been assured by the publicist of a knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York, that thousands of acres of public parks and lands in our cities have enormous, untapped potential as ‘greenfield’ sites for private development to construct more housing supply in Western societies. The computations available to us strongly indicate the possibilities of ‘greenfield’ development might truly be without limit in resolving the affordable housing crisis by the provision of supply.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Central Park area of New York.

Central Park lies in the heart of the most densely occupied, urban area of the United States: Manhattan Island in New York City. Central Park represents approximately 850 acres of raw land. It is readily available for the construction of affordable housing at the center of our greatest and most wealthy city, where there are an abundant quantity of enviable employment opportunities for our poorest citizens, while still leaving approximately 20% of that acreage (170 acres) untouched as ‘pocket parks’ in the newly created neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of housing units in the five boroughs of New York City was 798,144 in 2000 with an approximate average density of 54.3 dwelling units per acre (du/acre). Residential density in Manhattan appears slightly higher with about 72,033 people/square mile in Manhattan, which translates into approximately 112.6 people per acre. An average household size of 1.5 people indicates an approximate housing density of 75 du/acre. However, let us be conservative in our computations and proceed based on an average housing density of a mere 65 du/acre, approximately 15% above the average for the five boroughs but 15% below the greatest development potential for Central Park.

The City of New York could transfer 680 acres of Central Park into the ownership of private industry without cost, upon the condition that the construction of affordable housing within certain price point limits must commence within five years or else such lands will revert to public ownership in the future. This will represent a tremendous opportunity for private industry to profit on the land without having to bear the costs of its purchase. At an average housing density of 65 du/acre, this would provide for at least an additional 44,200 dwelling units in Manhattan.

With further implementation of this strategy on more ‘greenfield’ development sites of New York City, the number of additional, affordable housing units will, in fact, approach a doubling of the current housing stock of Manhattan. There are approximately 28,000 acres of municipal parks in the five boroughs of New York. There seems little doubt that some of this public land may already exist as ‘pocket parks.’ Let us proceed based on the idea that only 50% of this acreage (14,000 acres) truly constitutes potential ‘greenfield’ development sites to be turned over to private industry for the construction of affordable housing. At an average housing density of 54 du/acre, this would generate an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the bound of the City of New York, effectively doubling the capacity of existing housing stock associated with Manhattan and potentially reducing housing prices by a significant percentage across the entire metropolitan region.

Indeed, 130 square feet per person of recreation space for those living in the five boroughs seems redundant and excessive in a country where there are six acres of land for every single man, woman, and child. One might describe such space allocation as extravagant. It is akin to the false piety of persons who pray in public for the sake of demonstrating their piety for all to see and behold. Behold! We have so much space and money that we can willingly waste both in our cities and forsake affordable shelter for the neediest of fellow citizens!

It is true the property values of all existing homes in Manhattan and across the five boroughs would experience significant declines in price. As other municipalities pursue this strategy of ‘greenfield’ development for more affordable housing in Western societies, properties in such cities will similarly experience a significant decline in the face of a rapid and dramatic increase in the housing supply. It is likely such decreases in property values will prove only temporary as market forces slowly re-assert themselves over time in the absence of the previous restrictions on housing supply. Such a period might last two decades, and perhaps as little as one for our most attractive cities, e.g. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Toronto, and so on.

This very knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York argues our most prosperous cities are populated by the most educated, politically progressive, high-minded, and enlightened of our citizens. Surely, such estimable citizens would be willing to temporarily sacrifice some amount of personal worth in the value of their homes/properties for the sake of a fair solution to our affordable housing problem. I am assured by numerous public proclamations about their most charitable nature on this matter and many others issues of similar nature.

It is also true that these new dwelling units in the heart of our most prosperous cities would only be affordable, in relative terms to nearby existing housing process, during the initial offering in sales to the general public. Eventually, the dynamics of the real estate market would reassert itself. This represents a tremendous wealth-generating opportunity for our most needy citizens through the mechanism of land appreciation. However, the initial injection of 44,200 additional dwelling units in Manhattan – and the potential increase of an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the five boroughs – would have a systematic effect across the housing market for the entire New York metropolitan region, effectively reducing the cost of housing in neighborhoods more peripheral to the five boroughs.

Nonetheless, the creation of affordable housing neighborhoods in the vacant lands of Central Park will perform a public good in another regard. It will finally end the suffering of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side residents in Manhattan, who have been long segregated from one another in social terms by physical barrier of Central Park itself. The new neighborhoods of the ‘Upper Central Side’ will forever bind residents of the Upper East and West Sides together in a new interconnectedness of brotherhood and charity.

It is also true that a ‘greenfield’ development strategy for some cities (e.g. unsuccessful ones such as St. Louis and Detroit) would be a fruitless gesture due to the number of public-owned lots arising from the wholesale demolition of historic housing stock over the previous seven decades. However, such municipalities may pursue a strategy founded on the same principles by the wholesale release of these public-owned lots to private industry with the same restriction imposed on the land in a ‘greenfield’ development strategy. Nonetheless, a ‘greenfield’ development strategy will also afford our most prosperous cities, especially those in North America, with an opportunity to further densify their housing and neighborhoods, thereby making public transportation alternatives such as rail transit more economically viable options in such cities over the long term.

Large-scale View: ( left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

Other municipalities of our most prosperous and expensive cities could elect to pursue this supply-side strategy for more affordable housing. For example, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California represents another potential ‘greenfield’ site of 810 acres (less 20% retained for ‘pocket parks’ of the total 1,013 acres). At a mere 50 du/acre, this could represent another 40,500 dwelling units introduced in short order to the San Francisco housing market. According to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, they manage approximately 3,400 acres of parkland in San Francisco alone. Again, using conservative computations, this potentially translates into an additional 85,000 dwelling units with approximately half of that situated in the former Golden Gate Park.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

In central London, the potential of ‘greenfield’ development sites for more affordable housing is significant in such places as Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Richmond Park, and Hampstead Health, which alone could conservatively account for an additional 350,000 dwelling units in the London housing market.

Potential ‘greenfield’ development sites for affordable housing neighborhoods include Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Hampstead Health, and Richmond Park in London, United Kingdom.

Simultaneously, if every national bank and even all Federal, state, and local government agencies released all of the properties and housing units they owned on to the market, this would have an immediate effect of reducing cost by dramatically increasing the supply of housing and/or sites for housing. Indeed, for at least a decade now, perhaps even longer, our national banks, many headquartered in the Wall Street ‘heart’ of Manhattan, have desperately sought a means to make a more honest profit. Releasing all of the properties on their books will be an important step along their way to redemption in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

(With apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Download a printable PDF of this article here.
(Corrected PDF, 7:54 pm)

Bibliography and References
Population density and land area data compiled based on U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia, City of New York, City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, and Greater London Authority.

Florida, Richard. 2016. “Mapping How America’s Metro Areas Voted.” CityLab, December 1, 2016, retrievable at http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/12/mapping-how-americas-metro-areas-voted/508313/.

Major, M.D. 2017. The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids. New York: Routledge Books/Taylor & Francis Group, forthcoming in Fall 2017.

Swift, Jonathan. 1729. A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.

Central Park, Manhattan: Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, retrievable here.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: Photograph by Rich Prillinger, retrievable here.
New York, New York with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
San Francisco, California with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
London, United Kingdom with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.

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Pruitt-Igoe | A Photographic Essay

Pruitt-Igoe | A Photographic Essay
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Today, we set a very specific task to promote our forthcoming, new course on The Outlaw Urbanist online learning platform: “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” (2.0 hour). Namely, create a photographic essay telling the story, in part, of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex in St. Louis, Missouri using only ten photographs with shortish captions, i.e. no plans, maps, statistics, or computer models. Quite frankly, it is a near impossible task. Nonetheless, the photos are fascinating and there are plenty of informative links to related materials available in the captions so you can discover more about this (in)famous housing project.

Pruitt-Igoe is one of the most commonly cited examples of the failure of Modernism in the world. The televised demolition of Pruitt-Igoe residential towers in 1972 is one of the most iconic images of 20th-century architecture and planning (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth Press Materials).

Opening circa 1954, Pruitt-Igoe was Federally-funded social housing constructed with 2,870 apartments for 13,000 people (228 people/acre) in thirty-three 11-story buildings on 57 acres with a housing density of 50 dwelling units per acre in north St. Louis (Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis via The Guardian).

Pruitt-Igoe was a ‘hybrid design’ for a high-profile, strategic site. It incorporated Modernist principles (i.e. high-rises towers, separation of uses and building siting, stripped down aesthetics where ‘form follows function, etc.) utilizing a regular grid layout in the urban pattern of St. Louis, which was commonly planned on offsetting ‘smallish’ regular grids in a process of deformation, i.e. small for American cities, big for European ones (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey via Wikipedia Commons).

Pruitt-Igoe replaced 19th-century tenement housing, which was typical of the DeSoto-Carr neighborhood and many areas of St. Louis at the time. Survey of a 1938 Sanborn map indicates there were a minimum of 730 street-oriented dwelling entrances with minimal street setbacks on the site before Pruitt-Igoe, i.e. exclusive of buildings with deep setbacks, large (non-residential) footprints, alleyway-access, and vacant lots (Photograph: State Historical Society and Missouri/University of Missouri-St. Louis Archives).

The pilotis design feature partially ‘liberated’ the ground level for circulation routes, which crucially mediated inside to outside and vice versa, i.e. formal access to the elevator/stairwells in each tower and spatial distribution in the exterior spaces of the layout. The residential towers elevated dwelling entrances in section to internal corridors, effectively representing a complete elimination of front doors in the site (Photograph: Affordable Housing Institute).

The cost-cutting inclusion of ‘skip-stop’ elevators only stopping at the 1st, 4th, 7th, and 10th floors forced most residents to use dark stairwells – principally designed as fire exits – to access the floors of their apartment. They were publicly accessible due to the uncontrolled pilotis design feature, which also provided access to multiple routes at ground level in an ‘easy to read and use’ layout. Collectively, this facilitated opportunity and escape for criminal activities, initially focused on the stairwells but later spreading to other spaces (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

People must have quickly realized the opportunities inherent in the design and planning of the pilotis feature because intensive patrols of the buildings and grounds began shortly after Pruitt-Igoe opened, even before any welfare recipients were allowed to live there. Former residents indicate these stairwells/elevators were problematic spaces from the very beginning (Photograph: St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The number of unsupervised children in archival footage of Pruitt-Igoe is startling. ‘Baked-in’ problems of racism accentuated by many regulatory failures skewed Pruitt-Igoe’s demographics towards female-led households with children. Declining occupancy led to a ‘broken interface’ between adults and children. There were too few adults (especially males who belonged there) and too many children for too much space. Unsupervised children (especially teenagers) participated in petty vandalism, which worsened the perception of social malaise at Pruitt-Igoe (Photograph: The Pruitt-Igoe Myth).

There was an asymmetrical relationship (i.e. unequal) between the Vaughan (foreground) and Pruitt-Igoe (background) social housing in terms of formal access, horizontal and vertical scale, and spatial distribution. Nine strategic diagonal/gridline routes passing through, within or to the edge of Vaughan provided direct/adjacent access to every Pruitt-Igoe residential tower, suggesting the opening of Vaughan circa 1957-58 might have been complicit in Pruitt-Igoe’s social malaise (Photograph: U.S. Geological Survey).

Social malaise accelerated at Pruitt-Igoe during the 1960s even as residents maintained some apartment interiors until a cataclysmic mechanical failure in 1968 (watch a 5-minute KMOX news report on YouTube here) led to a St. Louis Public Housing Authority order for phrased vacating of the premises in preparation for demolition. According to news reports/resident testimony, the worst, most violent criminal activities at Pruitt-Igoe occurred during this 5-year period from 1968-1972 (Photograph: Zuma Press/Alamy via The Guardian).

This photographic essay only begins to scratch the surface of the issues surrounding this housing project. There is MUCH MORE to the story of Pruitt-Igoe. Learn more by participating in our forthcoming, new course “A Failure of Modernism: ‘Excavating’ Pruitt-Igoe” when it becomes available!

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On Space | …and Time | Mark David Major

The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.”
– Stephen Hawking

NOTE This post is not about architecture or urbanism. It is about space in a tangential, generic way in terms of space-time. I do not have the scientific or mathematical skills to either prove or disapprove the hypothesis discussed in this post. It is likely some physicist much smarter than myself has already contemplated this idea and applied the mathematics to discount the idea. It is also possible I am discussing something already accepted in the scientific community (i.e. reinventing the wheel, see the Stephen Hawking quote above). In fact, variations about this idea have existed for decades in the realm of science fiction/fantasy though I cannot recall a previous articulation in the exact manner of this post. However, this idea came to me in a rush during one morning over coffee and so fired my imagination that I had to write some notes so I did not forget it. This post is an expansion on those notes. There is a small possibility that this idea is entirely new. If so, I leave it to (much smarter and capable) physicists to explore the mathematics and validity of the idea. I only ask for some credit in providing the spark to their ideas. I have attempted to represent the premise of this post in the diagram below. I am coming at this concept of time from the point of view of a historian, writer, and dreamer.

Diagram illustrating the relationship between entropy and probability in space-time from past to present to future (Credit: Mark David Major).

On the Constant Present and Variable Future Past
– Past Imperfect and Imprecise Future
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Time is a universal constant, according to my understanding of the science. By universal constant, it means that time flows at a constant rate much like the speed of light is 186,282 miles/sec everywhere in the universe. Of course, the exception is if one travels at or near the speed of light, then time slows down for the traveler while time flows at its constant rate for the non-traveler based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. This is not a deterrent to the ideas in this post. For example, my understanding is Newton’s universal laws do not apply at the quantum level of our universe yet they are still applicable as scientific laws.

The premise of the ‘multiverse’ has gained greater acceptance in the scientific community over the last three decades. In the realm of science fiction, this idea has been around much longer; more than a century if we consider H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) as the starting point. In terms of time, the concept of the multiverse imagines that every scenario of events/actions in nature (including those specifically human) are played out across an infinite number of dimensions (perhaps portrayed most famously in Star Trek beginning in the 1967 episodes “Mirror, Mirror” and “The City on the Edge of Forever”, which used this premise for dramatic purposes). In terms of the flow of time, this can be imagined as a ‘time tree’ whereby an infinite series of lines branch off at various points in the past to run parallel with our own time line, like the branches of a tree where the root of the trunk is the Big Bang and the dimensions of ‘multiverse’ diverge from this earliest point in time. You can also refer to Doc Brown’s simplistic chalk board drawing and explanation to Marty in Back to the Future II). It is a tantalizing concept. However, Einstein’s theories tell us that time travel is not possible; or, at least, it is accepted that time travel to the past is not possible (the future, maybe, according to some physicists). The usual shorthand for this is the ‘grandfather paradox’, which is if I travel to the past and kill my grandfather then I never existed to travel to the past and kill my grandfather, i.e. a temporal paradox.

But what if this premise of time is inaccurate? What are the implications if we invert our ‘time tree’ and anchor the root to the present? The future and the past become “a spectrum of possibilities” (or probabilities) whereby the past converges on the present and diverges into the future. In this sense, time flows at a constant rate but is fluid. NOTE: After later reading an article about time by a philosopher of science in England, we can add the concept of entropy to this picture; namely, entropy is only stable in the present and becomes increasingly unstable in both the past and the future (6 September 2017 revision).

This means the past, present and future are always changing based on the probability of small moments (decisions, actions, events) across time, and time itself is overlapping waves of probabilities anchored to the present. We do not perceive this because we are always trapped in this particular point of time-space that we call the present. We could only observe the fluctuating waves of time and history if we could simultaneously exist in the present and ‘outside’ of that point in time; in the same manner that Einstein explained the theory of relativity from the point of view of the observer and the observed traveling at the speed of light.

The past only ‘appears’ fixed to us but the probabilities of the past (some probable, others unlikely) are always altering our perception of the present, just as we do the same for an infinite number of probable futures. For example, according to the Wikipedia entry on the Holocaust, the Nazis exterminated approximately 11 million (nearly 7.25 million Jews) between 1941 and 1945. Note: This example is not intended to be controversial but merely illustrative in gross, easily understood terms. I understand this Wikipedia said the same thing yesterday and believe it will say the same tomorrow but only because I am anchored in the present, which defines my perception of yesterday and tomorrow. But if the past is a series of probabilities constantly changing the present, then it is possible this Wikipedia entry stated yesterday/tomorrow it was/is 10 million or 12 million. The lowest probability outcome would be that the Wikipedia entry will state/did stated tomorrow/yesterday that the Nazis exterminated the entire Jewish race or the Nazis didn’t exterminate anyone (or even existed). Without being able to observe time from outside its flow, I can never be certain.

Our actions in the past, present, and future continually shape history within an infinite set of probabilities measuring from unlikely (-) to likely (+). At the same time, time tends to converge on the highest probabilities in giving shape to the present, just as our actions in the present (in small ways at this specific point in time) give shape to the probable outcomes of the future. This is free will as measured in our actions; past, present, and future in giving shape to what was, what is, and what will be. However, there is also a balance to time in the universe as it tends to converge on the highest probabilities. This is not predestination but what we could term ‘pre-probabilistic’. In nature, it takes a dramatic event to change the probabilities; for example, the Cretaceous–Paleogene (K–Pg) extinction event caused by an asteroid impact that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. In human history, altering the probabilities is more easily achieved (if that is the right word) at the level of the collective; for example the Black Death pandemic from 1346–53 that killed somewhere between 75 and 200 million people in Europe. It takes a rare individual to alter the probabilities of history. For example, Alexander the Great directly gave rise to the Hellenistic Period. It is probable that the influence of Greek culture on the Roman Republic/Empire (and later on European and American models of representative government) still would have occurred but, absence Alexander’s ambitions for conquest, Philip I of Macedon or some other’s Greek’s ambitions would have been limited to Greece itself/Greek cities of Asia Minor and Darius III’s Persian Empire probably does not fall, which trickles down to affect the probabilities that eventually converge on the present. In fact, based on this concept of time, such people (Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, and so forth) do not ‘fulfill’ their destiny but overcome their destiny to profoundly alter the probabilities of times. It seems likely this happens all the time on a smaller, imperceptible scale for some people.

This concept of time appears to ‘fit’ well with Einstein’s ideas that time travel is not possible. Perhaps, though, it would be more accurate to state that if you did time travel, you could never certain of arriving in the most probable past or future that defines the nature of your present. First, you would have to locate, observe and map the probabilities of the past and future from outside of time-space itself. This is as good as a definition of the omnipotent as any, i.e. God. Second, this would be mathematically impossible since the probabilities from every event/action in history would be infinite. Perhaps it would be feasible in some manner to ‘random sample’ the probabilities by first mapping the least probable extremes (Nazis never existed, Nazis conquered the world) and work towards the most probable (Nazis exterminated 10.9 or 11.1 million people during the Holocaust). However, even this is a daunting task because how could you determine and map the extremes of lowest probability in an infinite set? It cannot be done except in a partial, incomplete manner. At least, not without taking some mathematical shortcuts, i.e. cheats. This always brings you back to an uncertainty principle in time travel. You could never be certain of arriving in the right place or time because the only ‘anchor’ is the present.

There is something comforting in this concept of time because our actions do matter but, at the same time, time in the universe develops a ‘self-correcting’ mechanism based on the laws of entropy and probability whereby time tends to converge on those possibilities with the greatest likelihood. If I travel back in time and kill my grandfather, then my ‘grandmother’ marries my grandfather’s brother (greatest chance is my grandmother marries someone most similar to my grandfather). I still exist as a slightly modified version of myself derived from the same gene pool to travel back in time and kill my now-great uncle. We can change the future and the past is always changing us but only through tremendous efforts in altering the parameters in probability do we make certain outcomes more or less probable. It also means there is only one ‘now’ – carpe diem.

On Space is a regular series of philosophical posts from The Outlaw Urbanist. These short articles (usually about 500 words) are in draft form so ideas, suggestions, thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.

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On Space | The Urban Trinity

On Space | The Urban Trinity
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The spatial averts everything from a congruent state of existence, a simultaneous state of being, in a single place. The syntactic averts everything from bearing the same significance, a paradox of identical meanings denoting nothing. The functioning of the urban object embeds and bears its spatial logic. The spatial logic of the urban object has an explicit and expressive function. It is one and the same, in which we join with space and function in forming a Trinity of the Urbane. It is not holy nor unholy, neither sanctified not glorified; it merely is… However, its beingness can be soiled, colored scarlet, in the guises of human arrogance, hiding behind a mask of intellectual wisdom that bears no fruit, only thorns for the human condition. In our pursuit to grasp the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, too often we forget to bask in the masonry garden surrounding us. In failing to observe and acknowledge the state of being in the here and now, we betray the elemental beingness of the city, the place, of the street, and the hearth. The urban object is made of parts and a whole; the parts amalgamate to compose and configure, to convey and reflect meaning, in the body of the whole. We cannot understand one without knowing the other. To attempt to do so is a fool’s errand.

Humanity has never lacked for an insufficient sum of jesters, offering cruel jokes in place of genuine wit, embodied within a wisdom that is nurtured and earned well. We are fools but we must arise above our nature. We are angels but we must inevitably fall to Earth. We exist in a linear state from birth to death. We move in a linear state from here to there and back again. We construct the world in our image and find that it, too, is linear, from where we have been to where we are going, from the needs of the present to the desires for tomorrow, better than it was, yet always lacking in what is to come. The stage is set and three actors stroll onto the stage, spouting dichotomies to an unsuspecting audience, seeking acceptance and, perhaps, even forgiveness. One proclaims, “The space of the city is neutral, without meaning nor consequence!” Another steps forward and shouts loudly, “The spatial experience of the city is only ever reflective of ourselves, so look within for real answers!” The last holds back and merely whispers, “The city is a machine for seeing, going, and being; knowable, understandable, and capable of qualification and quantification. Remember who you are, imagine what you might become, and quality shall emerge from the quantity of the thing itself.” The operation of the city has a spatial reasoning. The spatial reasoning of the city has a purpose. It is one and the same. We must pursue it. We must achieve it. We must nurture it. It is our city.

On Space is a regular series of philosophical posts from The Outlaw Urbanist. These short articles (usually about 500 words) are in draft form so ideas, suggestions, thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome.

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